I started learning the pipes in my early 20s and received my first set as a 21st birthday gift – just before I embarked on careers that took me to small, rural towns, far from instructors and bands. For years, I wandered this musical wilderness, breaking out my pipes for the occasional pub crawl or Christmas party and assaulting the ears of good-natured friends who told me I was doing great.
I knew it wasn't true, but what could I do?
Then, in 2018, I traveled to the Worlds and Piping Live, after which the thrill of the piping world suddenly held greater allure. I sought out more music and information and yearned to finally pick up my piping education where I'd left off. I found radio programs, YouTube feeds and podcasts. On one podcast, the bawdy hosts mentioned an online platform that taught pipers, and so in hopes of rekindling my own playing, I made my way to the Dojo and subscribed. This discovery, however, came precisely as I began writing my PhD thesis, and so my first years on the Dojo were spent plumbing the archives to answer specific questions. I came to know younger versions of founders Carl and Andrew via videos on instrument maintenance and tuning techniques.
When I first picked up the pipes, it was with the notion that if I could play an instrument that I loved listening to, I could keep myself endlessly entertained. As I learned enough to get by, I found that I could also entertain others, albeit not to my own standards. But after I joined a band, then later, becoming part of other piping communities, I found that I appreciated the connection to other musicians and people.
If using the site for technical consultation had been all I had used the Dojo for, I would have been pleased, but I had little idea what was actually waiting for me. Not long after the pandemic hit, and like so many others, my home became my workplace, I realized that I suddenly had the flexibility to attend live classes regularly. These turned out to be the linchpin of what I view as the third phase of my bagpiping.
First, the instruction is personalized and frequent. Second, attending the classes regularly keeps the Dojo and the weekly topics in focus; that is, when I finish a class, I usually keep working on what we've been talking about. Or I go through a few recorded lessons in whichever course I'm focusing on. And, it turns out, even after returning to a less-flexible work schedule, there are still live Dojo classes I can attend. Just being around the discussion of music and piping is good for my own practice.
But finally—and this was the real surprise for me—you gain this community of people from all over the world. You see some faces in just one class, and others in every class you go to. Their locations make you do this mental math of like, "Gosh, what time must it be there?" The other Dojo members are funny and cheerful and above all, supportive in those moments where we work through difficulties. Some of them have been there before, and some of them are right there along with us. We learn from the hurdles overcome by each other. They are warm and funny, and they care. I can say it is by far the best of any online community of which I am a part.
Being around piping talk so often is the kind of immersion that makes feel like a bagpiper and, even better, makes me want to improve. Even though I remain physically far from any real-life piping community, I finally have one I can rely on, and that has made me a better, more fulfilled bagpiper.
I'm now in the midst of learning how to play, and every session no longer feels like a wrestling match. It is amazing how much easier it is.
Before the Dojo, tuning my pipes was just waving my hands, guessing and hoping.
I learn tunes more in depth now, with a greater appreciation for their rhythm and musicality.
I have been using some techniques for years that I can see now are inferior to those I have learned at the Dojo.
Ben Timberlake, Overland Park, United States